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Jewish World Review May 31, 2001 / 9 Sivan, 5761

Clarence Page

Clarence Page
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Consumer Reports

"Ken" and "Johnnie": The odd-couple legal team -- EVEN in a town where trial law, like politics, often makes strange bedfellows, the team of Johnnie L. Cochran Jr. and Kenneth W. Starr has come a big surprise.

I, for one, would have expected the Lakers and the Knicks to merge before the controversial former O.J. Simpson defense attorney and the equally controversial former independent counsel of Monica Lewinsky fame would see eye-to-eye.

Yet, there they were, smiling and calling each other "Ken" and "Johnnie" and arguing side by side recently at the District of Columbia Superior Court in defense of three activists charged in a Good Friday protest at the Sudanese Embassy.

The protesters, who chained themselves to the embassy, also made up an unusual coalition. They were the Rev. Walter E. Fauntroy, a former D.C. congressional delegate and aide to Martin Luther King Jr.; Michael J. Horowitz, a former adviser to President Reagan and Joe "The Black Eagle" Madison, a radio talk-show host who has crusaded against Sudan's slavery practices.

So, it turns out, has Starr. When the former solicitor general under the elder George Bush was asked to help defend the Good Friday protesters, he did not have to be briefed on the issue they were protesting, he told me in a telephone interview. He's been working with such issues for years.

He already had met with Sudanese refugees, including one whose freedom from slavery had been purchased by anti-slavery activists. Groups like the Boston-based American Anti-Slavery Group ( and the Swiss-based Christian Solidarity International ( have organized thousands of such "redemptions" of slaves, mostly Christians and animists, captured in the Muslim nation's southern region as living spoils of war.

This is the Ken Starr few people know. Among other church and civic activities, he's a board member of Advocates International, "a small, quiet human rights organization working for religious freedom around the world."

If Starr feels any misgivings about working with Cochran, who is loved and hated in generous amounts after his racially charged defense of Simpson, Starr wasn't showing it. On the contrary, he said cheerfully, "I feel very privileged to be involved with Johnnie and the rest of the defense, trying to bring attention to this issue. I am profoundly troubled and grieved by what has gone on in Africa, particularly in the Sudan."

As for the reaction from his fellow conservatives, Starr chuckled and said, "I have yet to hear a discouraging word."

On this issue, at least, I assured him that he would not hear any discouraging words from me, either.

In a post-Cold War era that too often defines foreign relations in terms of our national security, it is refreshing, at the very least, to hear someone speak a few good words in favor of humanitarian interests.

During the Cold War, Africa and the rest of the underdeveloped world provided a giant chessboard on which the superpowers played their pet dictatorships and rebellions like so many pawns.

Now that the Cold War is over, Secretary of State Colin Powell has written candidly about the "emotional pull" he feels about Africa. Yet, despite his personal fondness for the region, he faces a tough task persuading other Americans of all descents that the United States' security is linked closely to Africa's future.

Even so, there are very real reasons why that argument can and must be made. Rich in natural resources and desperately poor in per capita income, Africa and its problems are too big to be ignored. The plague of AIDS, for example, already is weakening enough immune systems in Africa to cause an unexpected resurgence of such diseases as malaria, cholera, tuberculosis, Lassa fever, meningitis and even sleeping sickness, which was thought to be virtually extinct.

In today's global village, diseases and other problems can spill out from Africa into adjoining continents and the world economy with unsettling speed. We who are fortunate enough to live in the developed world cannot quarantine the African continent or any other region. We need to find ways to support sensible development and oppose corruption. We need to help developing countries become stable and self-sufficient as partners with us, not as neo-colonial puppets.

That's not an easy task. The mixed reaction Powell received during parts of his Africa trip, particularly the hecklers he faced at a South African university, show that the United States has many fences to mend in Africa after years of neglect. Still, we must make the effort. As that stellar Starr-Cochran team might say, Africa's future is too important to be left to lawyers, even the humanitarian ones.

Comment on JWR contributor Clarence Page's column by clicking here.


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